Migrant teens not living the American dream, they’re “living the American nightmare”

Migrant teens not living the American dream, they’re “living the American nightmare”

  • Published on
    September 18, 2023
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  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Human Trafficking
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An investigative journalism piece from PBS recently uncovered evidence that migrant teens arriving at the U.S. border are being exploited by hiring agencies in the seafood processing sector as a source of cheap labor.  

Businesses think child labor = cheap labor 

The Public’s Radio interviewed more than two dozen migrant teens who described working overnight shifts, killing, cleaning, and weighing crabs. The teens reported they got to sleep for a few hours before waking up to go to school, where they struggled to stay awake in class. Then after school, they were picked up and taken back to the processing plant to work another overnight shift in an endless cycle of dangerous over-work and sleep deprivation.  

Fla. Rep. Kathy Castor stated: 

“Businesses are exploiting children as a source of cheap labor and preying on their financial desperation, this type of child exploitation must not be tolerated.”  

An investigation by the Department of Labor found most of the migrant children are from Central America and are fleeing poverty and violence in their home country. They arrived under serious financial pressure including debts to smugglers and the need to send money home to their families in addition to supporting themselves. Desperate to start earning money and without adequate protections, the children are extremely vulnerable to labor exploitation and debt bondage, and businesses know it.  

Systemic issues across the board 

This finding is just the latest in a spate of recent discoveries of migrant children working in exploitative and dangerous conditions. Migrant children have been found by state and federal investigators working overnight shifts at meatpackers in eight states and auto part manufacturers in Alabama. This Summer in Mississippi, a 16-year-old migrant died when he became ensnared in a machine at a poultry processing plant. 

David Weil, former administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, said 

“It’s a business model almost set up for violation. You can start preying upon the most vulnerable set of workers we have in this country, which are children.” 

The Labor Department has seen a 69% increase in child labor violations since 2018, which coincides with the influx of migrant children, and sparking the agency to call on Congress to raise the civil penalties for companies that use child labor. 

Marty Walsh, then-U.S. Secretary of Labor, says that too often, companies try to look the other way and place the responsibility on their staffing agency, subcontractor or supplier, but “everyone has a responsibility here.”  

Protecting children is a team effort 

Protecting children from labor exploitation will require a raft of legislative fixes, including deeper fixes to the immigration system and individual states laws. Unfortunately, the existing small penalties for labor violations across federal agencies have led to a “cost of doing business” attitude from the sector.  

However, instead of solutions to mitigate this issue, ten states have recently introduced or passed legislation that weakens child labor protections. Broadly, new laws propose to lower minimum wage for minors, allow minors to work longer hours, and permit their employment in hazardous occupations that are currently banned for minors.

The broken system currently in place and meant to protect children could instead be directly facilitating their exploitation, but you can help stop this from happening! 

Stand with Freedom United and tell representatives of those states rolling back child labor laws to stop exploiting migrant children and all children! Write to the representatives and Governors to demand that they do the job they were appointed to do, and protect children from harm, exploitation, trafficking, and abuse. Say NO to child labor law rollbacks! 


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Colin Washington
7 months ago

Would that not mean that paying smugglers and all the rest as stated on here, that their choice to pay and do such as recorded in this article is not only not worth it but is absolutely not the answer.

Bruce Russell
Bruce Russell
7 months ago

If we are going to allow wholesale illegal immigration, then we need to protect children. These innocents are being bought and sold as chattel. The fate of many of these children is much worse than the crab factory. The sex trade abounds with children. That we we allow this travesty and that our government won’t even acknowledge it, is a shame we will carry forever. When children arrive with adults, we should not allow them access until we know that the children are not for sale.

Joe Perry
Joe Perry
7 months ago

I will always growing up and going to different houses to sell doughnuts.
I always saw the most poverty in houses with many children.
I wonder why people can’t see the connection between too many children and poverty.

Madelaine Theobald
Madelaine Theobald
7 months ago

Disgusting! These young people have enough problems, thank you. Capitalising on them, indeed!

7 months ago

good idea

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